A Fighting Ship that ‘Can Give It Always’
In the early morning darkness of 6 July 1943, formations of U.S. and Japanese warships approached each other on a collision course in Kula Gulf in the Solomon Islands. As they closed, the Japanese ships—the latest run of the “Tokyo Express” under Rear Admiral Teruo Akiyama—sent deadly Mark 93 torpedoes splashing into the water toward the American column, Task Group 31.6 under Rear Admiral Walden L. “Pug” Ainsworth.
Ainsworth, in the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48), ordered “commence firing” at 0157. His three light cruisers unleashed a veritable storm of 6-inch shells, while four screening destroyers added 5-inch projectiles to the curtain of steel. The second and third cruisers were the Helena (CL-50) and her sister ship the St. Louis (CL-49). The Helena’s commander, Captain Charles P. Cecil, recorded that during the barrage her rate of fire was “the highest ever attained and maintained.” Akiyama’s flagship—the destroyer Niizuki—soon succumbed, taking down with her the admiral, his flag captain, and most of the crew.